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March Madness: The Sweetest Sweet 16 Upsets of All-Time

March 22, 2022
Top upsets in Sweet 16 history - St. Peter's makes the cut

The 2022 men’s NCAA basketball tournament is business as usual. Fans were treated to monumental upsets like Saint Peter’s beating No. 2 seed Kentucky in the first round and then advancing to this weekend’s Sweet Sixteen.

Over the history of the NCAA tournament, there have been numerous huge upsets. UMBC’s win over No. 1 seed Virginia in 2018 was the first time a No. 16 seed ever won a tournament game. Villanova’s upset of Georgetown in the 1985 championship game was one for the ages and who can forget the Cinderella runs of teams like Virginia Commonwealth and Loyola.

As we head into this week’s Sweet Sixteen, we take a look back at the biggest upsets that occurred in Sweet Sixteen games. There have some very memorable ones. 


The Latest Addition: St. Peter’s for the Win

When we originally posted this article three days ago, oddsmakers had the upstart St. Peter’s Peacocks as a 12.5 point underdog to powerhouse basketball team Purdue Boilermakers. Tonight, the Peacocks were able to knock off the Boilermakers and advance to the Elite 8 round of basketball.

Purdue was a 3 seed in their bracket and St. Peter’s was a 15 seed. Can St. Peter’s ride this magic to the Final Four? Time will tell. But one thing is for certain, the proud young men from St. Peter’s have already cemented their place in Sweet 16 history.


2002: What a Year

The 2002 tournament brought us not one but two Sweet Sixteen upsets. No. 12 Missouri knocked off No. 5 Miami and No. 4 Ohio State to get to the Sweet Sixteen where the Tigers faced UCLA. Clarence Gilbert scored 23 points to knock off the Bruins 82-73 who many experts have claimed to be the best No. 8 seed ever. Missouri’s win was the first time a No. 12 seed ever advanced to the Elite Eight.

The win came the same day that No. Indiana beat No. 1 Duke 74-73. The Hoosiers trailed by 17 points at one point, but Jared Jeffries 24 points and 15 rebounds gave Indiana the momentum it needed in the second half to pull off a major upset. The Hoosiers would end up playing for the national championship where they ultimately lost to Maryland.


1986: Before Shaq

Before Shaquille O’Neal went to LSU, the Tigers took a trip to the 1986 Final Four. It was unprecedented as the Tigers were a No. 11 seed that season. They had to go to double overtime to knock off Purdue in the first round of the tournament. The Tigers beat No. 3 Memphis State in the second round setting up a matchup against second-seeded Georgia Tech. 

The Yellow Jackets were loaded with future NBA stars John Salley and Mark Price. LSU’s Don Redden would score 27 points and the Tigers would become the first double-digit seed to ever make the Final Four. 

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2017: The Musketeers

Xavier lost its best player, point guard Edmond Sumner, late in the 2016-17 season. The Musketeers would shake off the loss and beat Maryland and No. 3 seed Florida State to get to the Sweet Sixteen. Seeded No. 11, the Musketeers weren’t given much of a chance against No. 2 Arizona. The Wildcats even led by eight points with just four minutes left in the game. That’s when Xavier took over. A 9-0 run to close the game gave the Musketeers a 73-71 victory and one of the biggest Sweet Sixteen upsets of all-time.


1990: Tribute to Hank

If you don’t know the story of Loyola-Marymount and Hank Gathers, look it up. It’s worth it. LMU was the best team in the West Coast conference but lost one of its stars – Gathers – in a conference tournament game. Gathers collapsed and died during a game.

The Lions would go on to play in the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed. They beat New Mexico State in the first round and No. 3 Michigan by 34 points in the second round. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Lions drew No. 7 Alabama and trailed the Crimson Tide by eight with eight minutes left in the game. LMU would score its fewest points of the season (62) and rally to become the first WCC team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in more than 30 years. 


2018:  The Other Loyola

Loyola-Chicago made the 2018 NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed. They beat No. 6 Miami by two points and then No. 3 Tennessee by one. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Ramblers were up against a very good Nevada team. Up by one with 6.3 seconds to play, Marques Townes hit a three-pointer that proved to be the decisive bucket in a 69-68 Loyola victory. The Ramblers would eventually make it to the Final Four that season.

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